Divine Strake Test Postponed For More Study
By Suzanne Struglinski
Deseret Morning News - Wednesday, Aug.2nd
WASHINGTON — The controversial, government-sponsored weapons test known as Divine Strake has been put off at least until next year, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency announced Tuesday.
The National Nuclear Security Administration is still working on its environmental studies regarding radiation exposure related to the blast, but the Defense Threat Reduction Agency has stopped preparing the Nevada Test Site for the experiment, designed to produce ground motion and shock wave data on penetrating hardened and deeply buried targets.
"The earliest point at which the Divine Strake experiment can be conducted would be at least several months into calendar year 2007," according to the agency announcement sent to congressional offices.
The test was supposed to take place June 2, but a lawsuit filed by opponents pushed it off until June 23. Then the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the Nevada Test Site that is home to the experiment, withdrew an environmental assessment of the program, pushing it off to an undetermined date.
The detonation of 700 tons of explosive ammonium nitrate and fuel oil slurry would have created a huge mushroom cloud and critics feared it would kick up radioactive fallout left from atmospheric and below-ground nuclear weapons tests and lead to the development of low-yield nuclear "bunker-buster" bombs.
The proposed blast raised concerns by Utah and Nevada congressional delegations and prompted protest petitions by hundreds of people.
"This delay is reflective of a cancellation of the planned explosion," said Robert Hager, the plaintiffs' attorney in the case against the Defense Department on the test. "The agencies' pursuit of data regarding background radiation and global fallout is a dead-end path that will not put to bed public health concerns about re-suspension of radioactivity. People do not die from inhaling background radiation.
"Until the agencies analyze what is in the soil, and disclose that data, this blast will never be allowed by the court."
The agency may also opt to move the experiment somewhere else. On Tuesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, met with the agency's director, James Tegnelia, who told the senator that he would assess other locations for the blast.
"I believe he now clearly understands the unique sensitivities that the people of Utah have regarding this subject," Hatch said.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said the fact the government still has no data showing the possible health risks associated with the test coupled with its desire to get more information "is tacit acknowledgement that uncertainty remains" and he remains skeptical of any weapons test deemed "safe" by the government.
Vanessa Pierce, program director at the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, said it is integral that the public is included to ensure that the experiment be done with the public's health and safety in mind. She said this did not happen decades ago and now people are living — and dying — with the consequences.
"I think that the prior delays were 'PRpr' tactics meant to take the wind out of the public's sails in fighting against the project," Pierce said.
But now this postponement shows that the government wants to make sure all the details are in place and it will comply with environmental laws before conducting the experiment, Pierce said.
J Truman, a Malad, Idaho, man who grew up in southern Utah and directs the fallout victim advocacy group Downwinders, said, "I think this shows the power Utah Downwinders have achieved to where they can say, 'No,' and their politicians have to listen and act!"
"No more days of being helpless guinea pigs in a deadly experiment," Truman said.
Beyond the potential health effects associated with the blast, Pierce said the other main concern is the test's potential step toward developing new nuclear weapons, including mini-nukes.
Pierce said the government has not be able to explain what else the test can be used for if not to build new weapons.
Contributing: Joe Bauman
© 2006 Deseret News Publishing Company
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Matheson Applauds Further Postponement of Divine Strake
Still Awaits Answers to Health, Safety Questions
Salt Lake City, UT-Congressman Jim Matheson said today he is pleased with the announcement that the so-called "Divine Strake" non-nuclear explosion-planned for the Nevada Test Site-has been postponed yet again. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) announced today that the "earliest point at which Divine Strake can be conducted would be several months into 2007".
Matheson, after reading Defense Department budget documents this spring, wrote to DTRA, expressing concerns about both the actual purpose and the health and safety ramifications of the planned 700-ton conventional explosives detonation at the desert test site 65 miles north of Las Vegas.
"This is the second postponement announced by DTRA. The government has yet to provide environmental data regarding what the health risks are to communities downwind of the explosion. Absent that data, I think the postponement and announced intention to gather more information is tacit acknowledgement that uncertainty remains," said Matheson.
Matheson said that officials have confirmed that one purpose of the test is to validate modeling codes for designing a nuclear weapon. The Divine Strake blast will be detonated in a shallow pit dug above an underground concrete tunnel. The site is about a mile from an area where six underground nuclear bombs were exploded in the early 1970s.
Matheson said he shares Utahans skepticism when the government says testing is "safe", given the past history of government deception surrounding nuclear weapons testing in Nevada.
Published Aug 4, 2006 from thespectrun.com
THE 21st CENTURY MOTTO OUGHT TO BE 'NOT ON MY PLANET'
by Valerie Brown
Divine Strake - the detonation of 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (ANFO) at the Nevada Test Site - has been postponed while the Department of Energy's National Nuclear
Security Administration (NNSA) gathers more detail about the test's environmental impact.
According to the NNSA, Divine Strake will be a non-nuclear explosion; all its effects will be local; and none of those effects will harm humans. I'm not so sure. The test will loose many tons of toxic chemicals. Since our planet's air and most of its water are interconnected, Divine Strake's waste may travel far from the detonation site. Even if it's not a nuclear explosion, Divine Strake is a bad idea on these grounds alone.
The Divine Strake Revised Environmental Assessment (REA) dated May 2006 states that Divine Strake will be in compliance with all federal and state air quality regulations, but there's no real way to confirm that assertion given the arrogant secrecy of the Bush administration. In a tactful understatement, a Nevada official told me that the NTS "does a lot of its own self-monitoring."
The Divine Strake REA asserts that all the material used in the test will be "detonated" and that the resulting cloud will "dissipate." That can only mean that concentrations will decrease locally, not that by some magic the debris and gases will disappear completely or be rendered biologically neutral. Unless there is no wind whatsoever and it rains right after the test, it is implausible that all the combustion products of Divine Strake will stay on the NTS.
It is especially galling that the NTS once again plans to wait until the winds blow northward to detonate the explosion. During the nuclear testing years, some residents of adjoining states were forewarned of the site test schedule, but Idahoans and Montanans were told almost nothing - while receiving the highest doses of Iodine-131 released from the NTS. Clearly, today as in the past, populations downwind of the site are considered entirely expendable.
Just what will Divine Strake put into the atmosphere? ANFO is a mass of hydrocarbons. According to the REA, the test will produce two tons of cyanide compounds, 25 tons of particulates, a ton of hexachloroethane, a ton each of tetrachloroethylene and tetrachloromethane, a ton and a half of phosgene, nearly a ton of sulfur dioxide, more than 31 tons of carbon monoxide, seven tons of nitrogen oxides, nearly two tons of chloroform, and many other noxious compounds. Who wants to be downwind of that?
Some of these chemicals break down benignly in air or water. However, several are persistent in the atmosphere. For example, it takes about 30 years for hexachloroethane, a chemical used to make smoke in military and pyrotechnic applications, to migrate out of the lower atmosphere into the stratosphere.
Tetrachloromethane, formerly used in dry cleaning and refrigeration, stays in the atmosphere for 30-50 years and has been detected at the South Pole. The National Toxicology Program rates both hexachloroethane and tetrachloroethylene, the latter also a dry cleaning solvent and metal degreaser, as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." Phosgene was used as a chemical weapon in World War I. Sulfur dioxide is the cause of acid rain.
It is true that the chemicals released by Divine Strake will be diluted in the air so that humans outside the NTS will probably not be exposed to high doses. But there is more and more evidence that lower exposures, exposures to combinations of chemicals, and interactions between hormones and chemicals, can result in serious health effects, particularly for pregnant women, fetuses and children. There may even be synergistic effects between radiation and chemical exposures. And, as with radiation exposure, problems stemming from chemical exposures may not surface for years and by then are difficult to trace conclusively to a particular source.
The products of the explosion do not have to reach the stratosphere to travel. For example, soils and mine tailings in Nevada may be the source of alarming levels of mercury in the Great Salt Lake and Idaho's Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir. Certain airborne pollutants released at or near ground level even cross the oceans. Some dust reaching Florida from North Africa contains 2 parts per million of mercury - far greater than amounts normally found in the air, probably coming from Algerian open-pit mines. Likewise, the U.S. receives pollutants traveling across the Pacific Ocean from coal-fired plants in China. Many industrial chemicals also move by atmospheric transport toward the poles, which is why polar bears have some of the highest levels of PCBs in their tissues of any animals on the planet.
These facts show that we are all Downwinders eventually, whether the toxins falling on us are radioactive or chemical. Yet the Nevada Environmental Protection Bureau of Air Pollution Control appears to be the only governmental entity pushing back against the NTS even a little. Given that the defense-related federal agencies stonewall federal environmental monitoring, environmental and health agencies in downwind states ought to join with Nevada to protect their citizens. The motto for the 21st century should be, not NIMBY- "Not In My Back Yard" - but rather NOMP: "Not On My Planet."
Valerie Brown is a freelance science writer based in Oregon. She is an Idaho native and a thyroid cancer survivor.
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